Thames Valley Early Music Forum
Tamesis Issue 201
We have four events during the next few weeks, so there should be something for everyone. First there is a day for singers and instrumentalists at Waltham Abbey, conducted by Philip Thorby. Jill Caudle tells me that there is a good balance of people, but there are a few more vacancies (except for recorder players) and more tenors would be useful. We had some excellent tenors at Ickenham for David Allinson, so I know you’re out there. I believe there are also vacancies at the Kilburn two-day event, and Neil Edington is the contact for this. The following weekend there is a joint event with South West Early Music Forum for loud wind players at Kelmscott.
From speaking to one or two people, I have the impression that you may not be very aware of the existence of our day of baroque music and dance at West Byfleet. The form is enclosed with this month’s mailing and I hope it will appeal to a lot of people. If you’re like me you may be reluctant to abandon your husband (wife/partner) for too many days of enjoyable music-making during the summer, but this could be the one forum event where you can bring them with you. We have two tutors: Philippa Waite who will be demonstrating and encouraging us to do the dances of the baroque suite, and Julian Perkins who is in charge of the orchestra. You are welcome to come if you just want to play, or just dance, but there will be plenty of opportunity to do both. No previous experience of baroque dancing is required, but obviously those in the band need to be competent sight-readers. Pitch is A=415. It should be very interesting to see what effect playing for dancing has on the style and tempi of gavottes, gigues, sarabandes and so on.
Information about the Greenwich festival and exhibition is starting to appear and I’ve listed the more important public concerts so that you can start to plan ahead. Another date to put in your diary is the interforum Handel weekend, which will be a residential one somewhere in the Midlands, on 17th to 19th April next year. I’ll provide more details as soon as they become available.
Many thanks to our two reviewers this month. After reading Geoff Huntingford’s review you will probably be inspired to re-read Gerald Plaice’s article which appeared last month, and wish you had been there yourself at his course on songs for Shakespeare’s theatre. Sidney Ross was inspired to write his review of David Allinson’s day on Franco-Flemish masters the very same evening after the event, and I must say that I enjoyed it very much myself. The standard of singing was probably the best I have heard at any forum event, and David was his usual entertaining and inspiring self. I forgot to ask anyone to review the baroque chamber music day at Oxford (though it’s not too late if anyone would like to do it). My impression is that there were about sixty people there, and I am full of admiration for Peter Collier who managed to split us into compatible smaller groups for four sessions during the day. There may have been a few less successful groupings, but I didn’t hear about any of them, and the only problem seemed to be getting in and out of the rather secure buildings. Next time, though, we must have some labels so that we know who everyone is.
I’m starting to arrange dates for next year now, so if you have any bright ideas about topics or tutors please let me know. If you feel like organising an event yourself that would be even better, so that the committee doesn’t get too overworked, though we will of course give you all necessary back-up.
It's very good to see a number of non-committee members coming forward to organise TVEMF events, and Jenny Robinson certainly did an excellent job with the recent workshop at Ickenham directed by David Allinson. It was musically as good as we have come to expect from David, so was most enjoyable. This month sees the return of two regular workshops: large-scale music in Waltham abbey with Philip Thorby - Schütz and Praetorius this year, and the mass in St Augustine's Church, Kilburn with Michael Procter. Both are deservedly popular events but I think a few tenors and basses might still be required.
Sadly, this month we say goodbye to Johanna Renouf, who is moving back to the United States so as to be near her family after 40 years living in this country. Originally a flautist, she developed her singing over recent years and is now a competent viol player, so with any luck there will be opportunities to continue her music in the USA. Johanna did excellent work on the TVEMF committee for many years - we shall certainly miss her enthusiasm and musical contributions and we wish her well in her new life.
Letter to the Editor
I agree with Chris Thorn that the shawm in G is a good instrument. I recently inherited one from a friend, and it has a pleasant tone without the stridency of a soprano in C or the rasping sound of the tenor. But I have heard G-altos that are both strident and rasping, so one has to choose them carefully.
There is still the problem of pitch. Renaissance pitch was probably higher than today, so a G shawm at A440 probably did not exist either (whatever that means!) I like to think of my F alto shawm as a G instrument at A390! Of course, there are lots of references to gryphons and unicorns in the literature, so like F alto crumhorns, they must have existed, although none has survived. Chris will be suggesting next that the sopranino curtal, the sopranoon, and the garklein bassanello have never existed, when, in fact, they are alive and well in Maidstone!
Songs for Shakespeare’s Theatre,
a workshop for solo and ensemble singers, lutes and viols
with Gerald Place and Dorothy Linell: 8 March 2008
The Quaker Meeting House, Quaker Lane, Isleworth, provided an interesting and charming venue for this small-scale workshop. It is a very simple building with the date 1785 over the door, but it has been much restored after the front of the building was heavily damaged by enemy action in the last war. Side extensions function as a school, but most of the building is taken up with the light, plain and airy meeting house where Gerald and Dorothy began the day.
Gerald started with an overview of the context for music in Shakespeare’s plays, and some of the problems inherent in realising this music in productions or in the concert hall. He told us that he had been fascinated by this subject as a student but had returned to it only relatively recently. There are 100-odd ‘calls’ for music in Shakespeare’s plays – sometimes only a snatch is required – and about twice this number of references to music. Music had several roles for Shakespeare and his contemporaries: it could set a mood, as with fanfares and martial music, or it could denote the presence of magic or transformation. Viols were used for music evoking higher principles – ‘the music of the spheres’. As for wind instruments, recorders generally accompanied the good guys, while the baddies arrived to the sound of oboes or shawms. “Noise” referred to loud wind instruments, while “music” was provided by viols and voices.
Shakespeare used the attitude of characters to music to help delineate them, famously:
“The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is mov’d with concord of sweet sounds Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; … … Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.” The Merchant of Venice V.i Gerald also mentioned that it is revealing to Hamlet that Guildenstern cannot play the recorder (Hamlet III.ii – where does that leave me?!) Gerald thought it significant that while many of his plays end on an upbeat note with lively music, Shakespeare removes this in his later plays so that they finish with the spoken word.
What kind of music might have been performed? Gerald took us through some of the clues and some of the problems. Much of the music associated with Shakespeare’s theatre turns out on closer examination to be less than straightforward. In the First Quarto version of Hamlet, possibly the 1603 version which appears to have been taken down from the memory of one or more actors in minor roles, Ophelia appears playing the lute. This must certainly have happened in actual production to be noted down in this version, and Gerald believes that this would probably have introduced a musical interlude rather than incidental music. And he asked us to remember that all the female parts were played by boys, who must have been pretty capable given the length and importance of many female roles. And how about counter-tenors? Gerald suggested that their current place in productions may be due to the range of Alfred Deller, who was able to sing lower than most countertenors. The issue of pitch was in his view confused by Ernest Fellowes who transposed music up to suit modern choral formations.
With a short example from Gerald with Dorothy accompanying him, it was time for the company to show what it could do. Gerald had sent out music to all attendees, and we warmed up with the four part ‘Farewell dear love’ by Robert Jones and with the round ‘Hold thy peace’. We then split into either high or low voices: the high voices stayed in the meeting house with Gerald, Norman McSween on harpsichord and three viol players; the low voices moved out into a schoolroom with Dorothy and three lutenists; and we swapped over after lunch. The singers concentrated on ‘Full fathom five’ by Robert Johnson, and ‘Come heavy sleep’ from John Dowland’s ‘First Book of Ayres’.
As I was in the high voice group, it was a good experience then to hear the various other voices in the group working their way through the two pieces with various combinations of instruments and with Gerald’s helpful comments on style and delivery. The afternoon session with Dorothy was also full of good tips, particularly which side of the lutenist to sit on (the same side as the lutenist’s soundboard as he or she is already looking in that direction!). Dorothy was informative also on the technical side of singing and accompaniment: she pointed out that the singer really does take charge, and should not look at the lutenist too often as it suggests lack of confidence or co-ordination. The lutenist should not insert chords to divide a long opening note, as this will set the speed which should instead be left entirely to the singer.
Interestingly, one of the lutes was in F rather than G, and we heard various of the singers at both pitches, When asked, we all rather favoured the lower pitch, which Dorothy suggested was because it was closer to spoken pitch and thus required less ‘art’ and was more ‘natural’ than a higher pitch. In all cases the words and the emotion of the piece must take precedence over the production of a pleasing sound.
We came together for a final session including Gerald’s notes on contemporary pronunciation as set out in the last issue of Tamesis. He felt that it was informative to hear something of current thinking on the English of Shakespeare’s time but thought that whole concerts or CD’s would grow tiresome. For this reason his own CD of this repertoire, produced with Dorothy on the Naxos label and promoted in last month’s Tamesis, is in modern pronunciation. We must thank Gerald and Dorothy for a thoroughly absorbing day, Norman and the instrumentalists for accompanying the singers, and David Fletcher for organising what was a modest but perfectly-scaled event.
Exploring the limes
On Saturday 26th April, TVEMF met in the United Reform Church, Ickenham, a part of that liminal area which is neither suburban London nor rural Home Counties, to explore the work of some composers who inhabit the liminal area between Josquin and Willaert. For this conceit I am indebted to David Allinson, whom we were all delighted to welcome once again.
After a short session of the contortions, gestures and strange noises without which no David Allinson workshop is complete, we embarked on Richafort’s Christus resurgens. As those of us who have been to John Milsom’s recent workshops are aware, Richafort has been somewhat cavalierly dismissed by historians of Renaissance music: for instance, A.W.Atlas in Renaissance Music describes him and de Manchicourt (another Milsom favourite), as “solid if unexciting members of what we will only half-jokingly call a ‘no-name’ generation”. After being led by David, with his customary mixture of illuminating analysis and vivid and wide-ranging metaphor, through Christus resurgens, I think that “solid” and unexciting” are among the last epithets we would apply to Richafort.
The pair of settings of Amy souffrez que je vous aime which followed included another hidden treasure. Gombert is a fairly familiar figure in our repertoire, and his 5-part setting was one of the less exacting items in the programme. The more intricate 7- part setting by Philip van Wilder was a charming piece by a composer who seems to have slipped in below the musicological radar; neither Atlas nor Leeman Perkins (Music in the Age of the Renaissance) mentions him, and Gustav Reese (Music in the Renaissance) merely records that there are numerous references to him in the account books of Henry VIII, to whom he was lutenist, composer and keeper of the instruments. Of his musical achievement, nothing is said.
The sufferings of unrequited love having been fairly briskly disposed of, we moved on to an altogether grander expression of pain and grief, of a very different order; Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon. This, I suspect, for most of us, was the high point of the programme and, whether or not post-prandial lethargy was a factor, the Mouton Ave Maria virgo serena did not, perhaps, arouse the same level of engagement.
The limitanei of the Thames Valley regiment were then suddenly elevated from the status of garrison infantry to the exalted ranks of comites and duces, in which capacities they engaged in a brief and inconclusive skirmish with Mouton’s Nesciens mater, fortunately without incurring any casualties. The day ended with a performance of the two star pieces, Christus resurgens and Lugebat David Absalon. The combination of David’s admirable direction and the number and balance of the voices produced one of those synergies which are often spoken about but rarely realised, and I do not think it would be unduly self-congratulatory for us to feel highly satisfied with our day’s work. However, for all the musical achievement, the day could not have been such a resounding success without all the time and effort which Jenny Robinson, aided (as she gratefully acknowledges) by support and advice from Vicky Helby and David Fletcher, put into organising the event; and warm thanks are also due to Mary and Michael Reynor and Jenny Gowing for providing and organising essential rations for the troops.